Status of abortion in Israel

UPDATE: in January of 2014, the committee in charge of deciding on what treatments are included in the national Health Insurance basket approved funding for abortions for all women ages 20-33. This radically affects the penal code, last edited in 1977. It will require changing the first exception below to read "the woman is under 33 and over 40."

According to penal code of 1977, it is illegal for a woman to have an abortion in Israel  ....unless:

  • The woman is under 17 or over 40
  • The baby is conceived out of wedlock
  • The baby may have a physical or mental defect
  • Continuing the pregnancy will put the woman in physical or mental danger

 In these situations, a government-regulated abortion committee can permit a legal (and often state-subsidized) abortion. 

In recent years, the number of women seeking the approval of such committees in Israel has plateaued at about 20,000 requests per year. 98 percent of these requests are approved. 

The latest figures released by the The Central Bureau of Statistics1 indicate that in 2010:

  • 42 percent of women approaching the committee are already married, 
  • Only 13 percent are underage (under 19 years of age). In Israel there are very few live births among underage girls – the ease of getting an abortion by committee “negates the need” according to a government report.
  • 30 percent of those requesting abortions have had one already in the past.
  •  Over half the women applying for abortion through a committee use the "out of wedlock" clause as their justification. 
  • The Ethiopian ethnic group has the largest number of abortions per capita, with Russian olim coming in a close second. 

These are official statistics on legal abortions. Various extra-government sources estimate that at least an equal number of illegal, private abortions take place annually in Israel2, bringing up the ratio of live births versus abortions to approximately 4-1 (one child aborted for every 4 born). None of these figures or estimates take into account the number of chemical abortions that take place using the "morning after" pill which is widely available at pharmacies with no regulation or prescription required.

Interesting aside -  a girl under 18 seeking an abortion does not need the consent of her parents, but she does need their consent if she wants a prescription for birth-control pills from a doctor. The Health Department issued a special directive in 2012 to social workers and health-care workers indicating that these young women should be "rushed" through the procedure and no record kept of it in their medical files - this in order to protect their privacy.

When the relevant section of the penal code was originally written, it contained a "social clause" permitting women to seek abortions for social reasons, such as economic distress. The clause was withdrawn in 1980 under the initiative of the Orthodox parties (see Shas, United Torah Judaism and National Religious Party). This clause is still under debate in Israel. In 2004, MK Reshef Chen of Shinui submitted an addendum to reinstate the clause, arguing that under present circumstances, women with financial problems must lie to the termination committee to obtain approval under the emotional or psychological damage clause, and that no advanced country forces its citizens to lie in order to preserve religious, chauvinistic, patronizing archaic values. Women's organizations such as Naamat voiced their agreement with the proposal.



2.משפחה חדשה: "נתוני דו"ח הפסקות ההריון של משרד הבריאות אינם משקפים את המציאות משום שמספר דומה של הפסקות היריון מתרחשות מחוץ לעיני החוק ללא אישור הועדות, מה שמכונה "הפלות שחורות".


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